From Irish Worker, 18 November 1914.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
Disturbed Dublin is the title of a book just published in the interests of the Dublin employers, and with the name of Arnold Wright upon its title page as author. The purpose of this book is to present to the reading public as colourable a presentation as possible of the events from the employers’ point of view of the great dispute of 1913-14. We are not saying so because this book is antagonistic to the cause of labour, but we say so because from the very first paragraph of the preface to the last sentence of the volume itself this bias against labour is so pronounced that the idea that it found its inspiration in the councils of the employers springs at once to the mind of the thoughtful reader. For instance, let us quote from the second sentence of the preface, where the author describes the result of the employers’ conspiracy as:
“The ignominious defeat of the attempt to establish a peculiarly pernicious form of Syndicalism on Irish soil.”
This, one must admit, is a good start for an ‘impartial’ history, and the same spirit is in evidence all through the book. In this attempt to present a literary justification for the employers the author does not scruple to distort facts, and even to state deliberate untruths.
One such case will serve as a sample. In the early part of 1913 the Belfast Branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union secured an agreement with several shipping firms in that city bringing the wages of their labourers up to the level of the men employed by the same firms on the docks at Dublin. One of the firms so affected was the Clyde Shipping Company. After a short time the union officials found that the foreman in charge of the London boat of that firm in Belfast was apparently systematically giving preference to non-union men. Several ineffective attempts having been made to check this the Belfast officials at last called their men off, and refused to allow them to work with non-union men. This step was only taken in obedience to extreme pressure from the men themselves. The boat upon which this strike took place was the Sanda, and had only a part cargo for Belfast, the remainder being consigned to Dublin. When the boat left Belfast the union officials in that city wired to headquarters in Dublin to ‘hold up’ the boat. This was at first done, but after a few hours delay the boat was worked by the Dublin members, their officials having brought pressure to beat on the Belfast secretary to allow the cargo to be discharged in order to keep the contract they had made in Dublin with the Clyde company. Thus, as it afterwards transpired, the Dublin officials practically sacrificed their own members in Belfast, and worked a boat against which their own members were on strike, in order to keep their agreement with the Clyde Shipping Company, and in hopes that the matter would be settled by friendly discussion. It was settled by friendly discussion, but the spectacle of the Dublin members out of loyalty to an agreement working a boat struck by their fellow members in Belfast was so unexpected and bewildering that some two hundred members were lost to the union in the latter city as a consequence.
Now here is how this ‘impartial’ author tells the story. Page 108:
“Some men who were working on a vessel called the Sandow, belonging to the Clyde Shipping Company, without a moment’s notice ceased work. On inquiry by Mr. Young it was found that the grievance was that the men were not receiving such large wages as the company’s employees in Belfast. This, it was represented, was the more important matter, as there existed in the northern port a union which was inimical to Mr. Larkin, and which he regarded with a mutual feeling of aversion.”
Now observe all the misstatements in those three sentences. First: The wrong name of the vessel; showing a most slipshod inaccuracy of investigation.
Second: The statement that the Dublin men were receiving lower wages than the Belfast men, whereas the fact was that the Belfast men had only recently joined the union in an endeavour to raise their wages to the level of Dublin.
Third: The allegation that the union in the northern port which had established the wages alleged to be higher than those of Dublin was a union inimical to Mr. Larkin. In reality it was, and is, a branch of the union of which Mr. Larkin was and is General Secretary.
Thus in the small compass of nine printed lines we find one mistake and two deliberate lies. Observe that it is entirely unthinkable that this so-called investigator could of his own initiative have invented those lies. They must have been supplied to him by the employers, and, like the good investigator that he was, he never bothered himself to check their account by any such simple expedient as a trip to Liberty Hall, or a question put personally to any of the dockers involved in that dispute. The inference is that he did not do it, because he did not dare to do it. He was brought over here by the employers to do the employers’ work, and it must be said of him that he faithfully, if clumsily, tried to earn his money.
As we have said, the story of that incident is a sample of the treatment meted out to the labourer by the author in every chapter in the book. One feels like congratulating the real literary men of Dublin that the employers could not trust one of them to be sufficiently blind to facts as to present a case that would suit the employers. A stranger, without any knowledge of Dublin people, without any insight into the terrible struggle life involves to a Dublin worker, without any appreciation of the finer elements of character which the Dublin toiler has preserved in spite of the hell of poverty and misery in which he or she was born and reared, without any grasp of the blended squalor and heroism, pride and abasement that environment has woven into the Dublin character, and absolutely blind and deaf to all knowledge of the countless cross-currents, interests and traditions that played their part in moulding and shaping that historic struggle – it is only such a fatuously ignorant stranger that the employers of Dublin could count upon to describe that struggle as they wanted it described.
The achievement of the employers is written of as if the book was dealing with the struggle of a puny David against a mighty Goliath, the employers being David and Jim Larkin the giant Goliath. No epic story of heroism that was ever written could surpass in admiring sentences the description of the employers’ battle against the working men and women as this hack writer tells it.
Told by a labour writer, or even told by one of those literary men who, although not of the manual labour ranks stood so grandly by the workers during that titanic struggle, the story would indeed read like an epic, but it would be an epic of which the heroes and heroines were the humble men and women who went out in the street to suffer and starve rather than surrender their right to combine as they chose for the uplifting of their class. Some day that story will be written from that standpoint, meanwhile let us briefly cast up the elements out of which that story will be composed.
It must tell how four hundred Dublin employers covenanted together, and pledged each other by solemn vows, and by still more binding financial pledges, that there would be no more resumption of work in Dublin until the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union was wiped off the map. How they agreed upon a document to be forced upon all workers that they would neither join nor help that union. How they had all the press of every shade of politics and religion upon their side. How they obtained beforehand the promise of swift and relentless use of Government forces, of batons, bullets, and jails to destroy the resistance of the workers. How that promise was faithfully kept by the Government. How they were able to override the law, and to fill the prisons with old and young, men and women, boys and girls, who attempted to exercise the picketing rights guaranteed to them by British law. How they instituted a reign of terror in which the lives of every worker was at the mercy of every callous brute in the uniform of a policeman or the vocation of a scab. How starvation was sent into the homes of thousands of the poor, until their lives were shortened by the sufferings enforced. How one bright young girl was shot, two honest workers batoned to death, and one other destroyed in his bright manhood by the hirelings of the Government. How the domestic privacy of the poor was violated, their poor household treasures ruthlessly smashed and the most sacred feelings of womanhood outraged by hordes of drunken policemen. And how through all this long-drawn-out agony every agency of every organised political, journalistic, social or religious kind in Ireland, not directly controlled by labour, joined in one great unanimous chorus in vilification of the sufferers, and in praise of their oppressors.
When that story is written by a man or woman with an honest heart, and with a sympathetic insight into the travail of the poor, it will be a record of which Ireland may well be proud. It will tell of how the old women and young girls, long crushed and enslaved, dared to risk all, even life itself, in the struggle to make life more tolerable, more free of the grinding tyranny of the soulless Dublin employers. It will tell of how, like an inspiration, there came to those Irish women and girls the thought that no free nation could be reared which tolerated the enslavement of its daughters to the worst forms of wage-slavery, and how in the glow of that inspiration they arose from their seats in the workshop or factory, and went out to suffer and struggle along with their men. It will tell of how the general labourers, the men upon whose crushed lives is built the fair fabric of civilisation, from whose squalid tenements the sweet-smelling flowers of capitalist culture derive their aroma, by whose horny hands and mangled bodies are bought the ease and safety of a class that hates and despises them, by whose ignorance their masters purchase their knowledge – it will tell how these labourers dared to straighten their bent backs, and looking in the faces of their rulers and employers dared to express the will to be free. And it will tell how that spectacle of the slave of the underworld looking his masters in the face without terror, and fearlessly proclaiming the kinship and unity of all with each and each with all, how that spectacle caught the imagination of all unselfish souls so that the artisan took his place also in the place of conflict and danger, and the men and women of genius, the artistic and the literati, hastened to honour and serve those humble workers whom all had hitherto despised and scorned.
And that story will tell how, despite the wealth and the power of the masters, despite jails and batons, despite starvation and death, victory was within sight for the Dublin workers, and only eluded their grasp because of the failure of a part of their allies to remain keyed up to the battle pitch. Because others outside their ranks were not able to realise the grandeur of the opportunity, the sublimity of the issues at stake.
The battle was a drawn battle. The employers, despite their Napoleonic plan of campaign, and their more than Napoleonic ruthlessness and unscrupulous use of foul means were unable to carry on their business without men and women who remained loyal to their union. The workers were unable to force the employers to a formal recognition of the union, and to give preference to organised labour. From the effects of this drawn battle both sides are still bearing heavy scars. How deep those scars are none will ever reveal.
But the working class has lost none of its aggressiveness, none of its confidence, none of its hope in the ultimate triumph. No traitor amongst the ranks of that class has permanently gained, even materially, by his or her treachery. The flag of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union still flies proudly in the van of the Irish working class, and that working class still marches proudly and defiantly at the head of the gathering hosts who stand for a regenerated nation, resting upon a people industrially free.
Ah, yes, that story of the Dublin dispute of 1913-14 is meet subject for an epic poem with which some Irish genius of the future can win an immortality as great as did the humble fighters who in it fought the battle of labour.
Last updated on 19.8.2007